We enjoyed a leisurely morning, but eventually left the hotel to have another delicious meal at the family restaurant across from the hospital cave. Luckily the cave was open today, so we were able to walk through a series of chambers and corridors full of eerie echoes. These rooms were used for top level meetings, surgeries, pharmacy needs, and all other purposes to care for the Vietnamese soldiers and keep them hidden inside the mountain from the American pilots during the Vietnamese War.
Back out in the daylight, the spooky feeling dissipated and we rode along the western side of the island to research our ferry for tomorrow morning. It was a spectacular ride, with the sun glinting off the open water to our left, mangroves and tiny fishing huts to our right, and herders with their goats in the center of the road.
Back in town, the power was out in every single building. Luckily, our restaurant and our hotel had a generator, leaving our pho dinner uninterrupted until swarms of people flocked over to our restaurant like moths crowding a lightbulb.
Eager to get out of town on the bikes early, we convinced the hotel staff to let us retrieve our laundry at 7am. Apparently, the reason it was taking so long is because they dry everything on the tin rooftop of the hotel, so Byron and the maid were up on the roof trying to pick out what items were ours.
Finally, we checked out and made our way on the hilly roads to the ferry, but were stopped when Byron’s throttle cable snapped. This was not a problem, however, because there is a mechanic in every teeny tiny town and we had just passed one a few hundred meters up the road. Byron pushed the bike there and had it fixed in five minutes for a total of $5 and we were soon on our way to the ferry terminal.
The terminal was crowded with bikes, people, and vendors trying sell snacks and toys to keep the children quiet. As soon as the world’s dinkiest ferry pulled up to the ramp, everyone scrambled to put on their helmet, start their engines and beat each other at getting to the gate first. It was madness as they tried to control the flow of bikes cramming onto the small ferry platform. There was no room to get off the motorbike since we were packed in so tightly, facing the wrong direction, so all I could do was straddle my bike, try to keep it balanced as the ferry rocked, and pray that we wouldn’t sink. Forty minutes later, with as much frantic action as before, bikes were turned around and unloaded to the island of Cat Hai. We had to take one more ferry from Cat Hai to Haiphong, and this next one wasn’t much better. Again, I was facing the wrong way trying to keep my bike from tipping into the next bike in front of me, while trying to wave away the ashes from a man’s cigarette that were landing dangerously close to my leaky gas cap. Again, we were lucky enough to make it to solid land, use the world’s nastiest looking squatty potty and headed off on our long drive from Haiphong to Hanoi.
The roads were a bit less congested than our first drive, but there was still a fair share of pushy scooters, honk-happy taxis, and aggressive buses. We stopped at a huge mega mall and were welcomed by the most western atmosphere we’d encountered in Vietnam–KFC, fast food burger places, grocery stores, shoe stores, and more. We were quite happy dining on fried chicken while sitting in the parking lot guarding our bikes and packs. We had intended on pushing on another 80km or so past Hanoi, but it was getting darker and we were exhausted, so we checked into our favorite hotel in Hanoi and the staff was happy to see us again.
After yesterday’s long day of driving, we decided that in order to get to Sapa by motorbike, it would take several more long days of driving on monotonous highways. Instead, we booked an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa, saving several travel days on the bikes and giving us a nice drama-free trip.
The train wasn’t departing until 10pm, so we had a full day in Hanoi to enjoy our usual breakfast special #9 at the hotel (bacon, eggs, bread), go for a jog around the lake, get my toenails painted, and relax. Many stores were still closed due to the Tet holiday, so we spent much of our time reading and blogging in the hotel lobby while sampling the staff’s special Tet cake and an
unlimited supply of tea. After a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant (I was sick of fried noodles and rice), we took a taxi to the train station. It was easy to find our train and our cabin containing four bunk beds and we had a friendly German couple as our bunk mates. We were all exhausted, so as soon as the train pulled away from the station, we climbed into our tiny beds and said goodnight.